Court rules in favor of county v. former county home superintendent
After more than two years of court proceedings, a ruling has been made on the complaint filed by the former county home superintendent against the county.
On Nov. 1, 2014, former Pleasant View Rest Home superintendent Sandra Hurd filed a complaint against the Pulaski County Commissioners that at the time included Larry Brady, Terry Young and Tracey Shorter, former Pulaski County Auditor Shelia Garling and Pulaski County Attorney Kevin Tankersley.
The case was ordered to the Marshall Superior Court on Sept. 30, 2014, and on Jan. 24, 2017, Judge Dean A. Colvin issued an order of judgment in favor of the county.
The original suit was filed against the commissioners on April 17, 2014, for defamation, slander, libel and invasion of privacy by false light.
Hurd was fired on Aug. 27, 2013, after she was accused of fraudulent reporting of state documents. Hurd had been the superintendent at the county home for five years and had been reappointed as superintendent on Jan. 1, 2013.
According to the suit, Hurd discovered a clerical error in July 2013 and reported it to the state on or about July 30, 2013. On Aug. 15, 2013, she was suspended for a period of 10 days for “intentionally falsifying federal records.” On Aug. 22, 2013, the state confirmed that Hurd had not committed Medicaid fraud but on Aug. 27, 2013, during an emergency meeting commissioners terminated Hurd for intentionally falsifying federal records.
According to the claim, commissioners knew or had reason to know that the accusation was false but they did not correct their accusations, instead terminating her.
Hurd’s complaint also cited that a criminal investigation against her was also conducted after police were notified by the commissioners. Indiana State Police found that no criminal charges should be pursued.
The suit also alleges that the commissioners, “intended to damage the character and reputation of Hurd within the community and their statements made with reckless disregard of the effect of said statements and with no ability to prove the truth of any said statements.”
Commissioners made a statement in August of 2013 stating that Hurd intentionally reported that a resident was at the home more days then he actually was, thus falsifying documents. At the time, commissioner Tracey Shorter also said Hurd admitted to the falsification during a meeting with Shorter, Hurd and human resource professional Paula Reimers.
At one point in the court procedures, the court denied a motion to dismiss the case, allowing for Hurd and her attorney to amend the complaint and “file a more definite statement.” She amended her complaint on July 29, 2016.
The defense then filed for a motion for summary judgment and a hearing was set for Dec. 12, 2016. At that time the court stated a decision would be made.
Colvin reviewed the case including the written and oral arguments and supporting material versus applicable law. His conclusion is that there was not evidence of the alleged wrongdoings.
In the judgment, Colvin cites how the county home received financing from the Residential Care Assistance Program including that the program is self-reporting and as the superintendent of the home, Hurd would have received information on how residents’ stays are to be reported.
Colvin states “consequently, Hurd’s reporting of Patient A’s presence was inaccurate.” She had filled out the paperwork as she had always done.
The alleged inaccurate reporting was then brought to the attention of the commissioners by two county home employees who had been terminated. The county responded with an investigation and Hurd was terminated due to the false reporting. Hurd alleged that the commissioners committed defamation and invasion of privacy by false light.
The county responded that the defamation did not occur because Hurd did not prove that a malice intent or damages occurred. The county also argued that they fall under a qualified privilege because the county had a duty to the public.
The court decision could be appealed.